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The Family (2): Angelina

Last Saturday, I took Angelina to Ontario Science Centre for the first time. Though she’s excited about everything, we predictably ended up in KidSpark, a fun place for younger kids. She had the most gorgeous time playing cashier at the mock supermarket and serving food in a sushi van. For me, the most memorable part of the day was the toddlers’ zone. Angelina played a little in that enclosed place fitted with colorful mats and soft structures. Approaching Junior Kindergarten, she was one of the bigger kids there. But there was a boy much taller and older than any other kid inside. I gazed at him, mesmerized. He was having so much fun with his little sister. At least 8 or 9 years older than his sister, he would slow down and act more clumsily or childishly to meet her age. When he looked at her, his smiles were boundlessly tender. He was slender and tall; even his feet were slender… must be going through a growth spurt before he’s officially a teenager. Then I became aware that I was smiling at him, as if I were enjoying a mental picture of Aaron waltzing with his little sister.


In Angelina’s eyes, Aaron was always the approachable, playful brother, whereas Anthony is the aloof, awe-inspiring one. Aaron also thought his sister was cool and funny, while considering Anthony as the “less cool sibling.” As the two grew older, they bonded even more. In the last couple of months leading up to his hospitalization, Aaron decided to sleep in the same room with me and Angelina. He had a tummy ache that began to bother him from last September, but the pain was dismissed as nothing by every doctor we went to see. He would curl up into a fetus position to make himself comfortable at night. He became increasingly reluctant to sleep in his own bedroom and moved his bed into our room. This new arrangement had an unintended consequence: the two developed a nightly bonding ritual consisting of (1) a pillow fight session, (2) “Little Sir Echo sing-along,” and (3) “Phone Calls to Ms. Maomao.” Pillow fight is just what it sounds like and doesn’t need any explanation. The sing-along is of a nursey rhyme that they both loved, and goes like this:


Aaron: Little Sir Echo, how do you do? Hello

Angelina: Hello

Aaron: Hello

Angelina: Hello

Aaron: Little Sir Echo how very blue! Hello

Angelina: Hello

Aaron: Hello

Angelina: Hello

Aaron: Hello

Angelina: Hello

Aaron: Hello

Angelina: Hello

Aaron: Won't you come over and play? You're a nice little fellow, I know by your voice, but you're always so far away.


“Phone calls to Ms. Maomao” is how Aaron would humor Angelina to do his bidding by bringing in an “external force”, the teacher.

Aaron: Good night, Angelina.

Angelina: Good night, Mama.

Aaron: Good night, Angelina.

Angelina: Good night, Auntie.

Aaron: [pretending to call Angelina’s teacher] 喂? 毛毛老师? (Hello, Ms. Maomao?)

Angelina: Good night, Aaron, hehehe….

Aaron: 真是个乖宝宝(What a good baby!)



The nightly ritual gave us an illusion of stability and security, as if life would go on like this forever. Then the day came when Aaron and I had to leave for the hospital. A couple of weeks later, Dad was called away to help out over there. Angelina stayed home with Aunt all this time. When the family finally came back, there was no Aaron. “Where is Aaron?” We told her that Aaron had gone to Heaven.


Angelina has largely kept her cool and seemed unperturbed most of the time. I am thankful for her age but as my friend reminded me, there was no good age to lose a sibling. She is processing Aaron’s absence in her own way and will continue to do so in the years to come. She doesn’t listen to Aaron’s piano recording for “it makes [her] sad.” She never fails to terrify her aunt whenever she says that she’ll soon go to Heaven to see Aaron. Every night, she talks to God and Aaron. She invariably asks God one question: Why did you take our Aaron away? To Aaron, she always says in a reassuring tone, “Aaron, we are right in this world. Don’t worry about us!”


Life is a mystery, for what meets our eyes is not all there is. Angelina is beginning to grasp abstract concepts such as visibility/invisibility, absence/presence, etc. From the way she talks with God and Aaron, she clearly feels comfortable being in a relationship with the invisible. Of course no one can predict a three-year-old’s next question. One day at dinner she asked, “Are God, angels, Aaron, bacteria, and virus all invisible? Do they all live in our heart?” I had almost forgotten that she was of the generation born in the pandemic. Bacteria and virus are of a different order than God and angels; God’s words and spirit may live in our heart, but not angels; bacteria and virus may exist in our body but can be fatal if they travel to our hearts…. I soon gave up on pretending to be a reliable source of theological and biological knowledge. Better leave it to herself to figure out the mystery of life. Because of her brother, she embarked on this journey at the age of three. I pray that her journey will lead her to a more expansive, imaginative, and hopeful understanding of life.

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